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Jack Smith

Leave Him to Heaven (if He Wants to Go)

January 07, 1988|Jack Smith

Noting that every generation thinks itself at the peak of civilization, James S. Wood wonders whether there is a word for such an attitude.

"When a woman sees herself as the center of the universe," he says, "she is egocentric ; if a man considers his tribe, country, race, or culture to be the norm against which all others are gauged, he is ethnocentric .

"But what do we call it when people think of the current era--their own time of life, as it were--as the point at which eternity has peaked. I would suggest epochocentric ."

Wood observes that the generation of the 1960s thought it was "the absolute culmination of all prior history and the wellspring of all future history." Now, he says, they have been replaced by the fiscally enlightened children of the 1980s.

He recalls that in the 1930s we had our epochocentric view of heaven. "Remember those movies that depicted heaven as a kind of supersanctuary of Art Deco? How awful those celestial scenes appear now, all swathed in creamy columns and draperies. Personally, I like to think that if heaven did exist, it would transcend all existing notions of wealth, architecture, style, and time itself."

I don't think often of heaven, probably because I have little hope of going there. According to Webster's New World Dictionary, heaven, in the theological sense, is "the dwelling place of God and his angels, variously conceived of as the place where the blessed will live after death."

Whatever its other merits may be, I have an idea that heaven will not be overcrowded. People being what they are, I don't think the gates will be very busy. I don't know anyone who could meet the entrance standards.

Heaven is not listed in the Harper Dictionary of Modern Thought, so perhaps the concept is not considered intellectually viable in our times. On the other hand, it offers us a chance to hypothecate the ideal world.

I have always questioned the appeal of heaven simply because human beings are too perverse to enjoy perfection. Can you imagine how boring life would be without strife? Nobody wants to live in a world without sex, and if you have sex you are going to have longing, rejection, jealousy and pain.

I imagine the weather in heaven would be always balmy, and that its residents would naturally be nudists. Could women actually be happy without fashion? One would have to wear shoes, however, because gold pavements get hot.

Being epochocentric, we would want heaven to be full of contemporary toys. Certainly it would have television and videocassette recorders, to help while away the idle hours, and every one of us would have his or her own Mercedes-Benz.

I wouldn't want to give up my daily newspaper, but if there was no bad news to report, wouldn't it be dull? Wouldn't you miss those headlines saying, "TWO CAUGHT IN LOVE NEST"?

I might think of heaven as being one long uninterrupted football season, but if there was no conflict in heaven, there couldn't be any sports. In sports, alas, there is competition, and somebody has to lose. I have always thought of heaven as a place where there are no losers.

I do see heaven as Art Deco, full of big square white overstuffed furniture, cumulus clouds and unearthly Muzak. That's probably because I reached my majority in the Art Deco era, and, being as epochocentric as the next person, I think Art Deco was the keenest period we have ever been through, artistically speaking.

I suppose everyone would be issued an all-purpose credit card in heaven, but there would never be an accounting, since everything would be provided. It would be just one great big free shopping mall.

If God were really there, with his angels, one would have to be always on one's good behavior, I suppose. There would be no crime, since there would be no want. Some people, it is true, are simply sociopathic, and will commit crimes in the best of circumstances, but one assumes they would be screened out.

But I'm not sure I want to spend eternity with the kind of people who would be getting into heaven. Most of them just wouldn't be my type. I'd probably get into trouble for peeping at Earth or harassing an angel.

So count me out.

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